Advertisement

Human Nature

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 231–248 | Cite as

Group Structure and Female Cooperative Networks in Australia’s Western Desert

  • Brooke Scelza
  • Rebecca Bliege Bird
Article

Abstract

The division of labor has typically been portrayed as a complementary strategy in which men and women work on separate tasks to achieve a common goal of provisioning the family. In this paper, we propose that task specialization between female kin might also play an important role in women’s social and economic strategies. We use historic group composition data from a population of Western Desert Martu Aborigines to show how women maintained access to same-sex kin over the lifespan. Our results show that adult women had more same-sex kin and more closely related kin present than adult men, and they retained these links after marriage. Maternal co-residence was more prevalent for married women than for married men, and there is evidence that mothers may be strategizing to live with daughters at critical intervals—early in their reproductive careers and when they do not have other close female kin in the group. The maintenance of female kin networks across the lifespan allows for the possibility of cooperative breeding as well as an all-female division of labor.

Keywords

Martu Aborigines Division of labor Group composition Cooperation Australia 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work has been generously funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS-0514560) and a Fulbright Postgraduate Award from the Australian-American Fulbright Commission. Drafts of the manuscript were greatly improved by comments and discussions with Eric A. Smith, Doug Bird, Bob Tonkinson, Donna Leonetti, and Steve Goodreau. We especially want to thank the residents of Parnngurr, Punmu, and Kunawarritji communities for their friendship, patience, and willingness to share the details and stories of their lives in the bush.

References

  1. Barnard, A. (1983). Contemporary hunter-gatherers: current theoretical issues in ecology and social organization. Annual Review of Anthropology, 12, 193–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bereczkei, T., & Dunbar, R. (2002). Helping-at-the-nest and sex-biased parental investment in a Hungarian gypsy population. Current Anthropology, 43, 804–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berndt, R. M. (1955). Murngin (Wulamba) social organization. American Anthropologist, 57, 84–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bird, R. (1999). Cooperation and conflict: the behavioral ecology of the sexual division of labor. Evolutionary Anthropology, 8, 65–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bliege Bird, R., & Bird, D. W. (2008). Why women hunt: Risk and contemporary foraging in a Western Desert Aboriginal community. Current Anthropology, 49, in press.Google Scholar
  6. Blurton Jones, N. G., Hawkes, K., & O’Connell, J. F. (2005). Hadza grandmothers as helpers: residence data. In E. Voland, A. Chasiotis, & W. Schiefenhoevel (Eds.), Grandmotherhood: The evolutionary significance of the second half of female life (pp. 160–176). Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Borgerhoff Mulder, M. (1988). The relevance of the polygyny threshold model to humans. In C. Mascie-Taylor, & A. Boyce (Eds.), Human mating patterns (pp. 00–00). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bove, R. B., Valeggia, C. R., & Ellison, P. T. (2002). Girl helpers and time allocation of nursing women among the Toba of Argentina. Human Nature, 13, 457–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown, J. (1970). A note on the division of labor by sex. American Anthropologist, 72, 1073–1078.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chisholm, J. S., & Burbank, V. (1991). Monogamy and polygyny in southeast Arnhem Land: Male coercion and female choice. Ethology and Sociobiology, 12, 291–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dahlberg, F., ed. (1981). Woman the gatherer. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Davenport, S., Johnson, P., & Yuwali. 2005. Cleared out: First contact in the Western Desert. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.Google Scholar
  13. Devitt, J. (1988). Contemporary aboriginal women and subsistence in remote, arid Australia. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Queensland.Google Scholar
  14. Dorjahn, V. (1958). Fertility, polygyny and their interrelationships in Temne society. American Anthropologist, 60, 838–860.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Draper, P. (1975). Cultural pressures on sex difference. American Ethnologist, 2, 602–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ember, C. (1975). Residential variation among hunter-gatherers. Cross-Cultural Research, 10, 199–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ember, M., & Ember, C. (1971). The conditions favoring matrilocal versus patrilocal residence. American Anthropologist, 73, 571–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Estioko-Griffin, A., & Griffin, P. B. (1981). Woman the hunter: the Agta. In F. Dahlberg (Ed.), Woman the gatherer (pp. 121–204). New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Finlayson, H. H. (1935). The red centre: man and beast in the heart of Australia. Sydney: Angus and Robinson.Google Scholar
  20. Foley, R. (1995). The adaptive legacy of human evolution: a search for the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. Evolutionary Anthropology, 60, 508–517.Google Scholar
  21. Gould, R. A. (1969). Subsistence behavior among the Western Desert Aborigines of Australia. Oceania, 39, 253–274.Google Scholar
  22. Hames, R. (1988). The allocation of parental care among the Ye’kwana. In L. Betzig, M. Borgerhoff-Mulder, & P. Turke (Eds.), Human reproductive behavior: a Darwinian perspective (pp. 237–251). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Hames, R., & Draper, P. (2004). Women’s work, child care and helpers-at-the-nest in a hunter-gatherer society. Human Nature, 15, 319–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hamilton, A. (1970). The role of women in aboriginal marriage arrangements. In F. Gale (Ed.), Womens role in Aboriginal society (pp. 28–35). Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.Google Scholar
  25. Hawkes, K. (2003). Grandmothers and the evolution of human longevity. American Journal of Human Biology, 15, 380–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hawkes, K., O’Connell, J. F., & Blurton Jones, N. G. (1997). Hadza women’s time allocation, offspring provisioning and the evolution of long postmenopausal life spans. Current Anthropology, 38, 551–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hawkes, K., et al. (1998). Grandmothering, menopause, and the evolution of human life histories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 95, 1336–1339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hawkes, K., et al. (2000). The grandmother hypothesis and human evolution. In L. Cronk, N. Chagnon, & W. Irons (Eds.), Adaptation and human behavior: An anthropological perspective (pp. 237–260). Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  29. Hern, W. M. (1992). Polygyny and fertility among the Shipibo of the Peruvian Amazon. Population Studies, 46, 53–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hiatt, B. (1970). Woman the gatherer. In F. Gale (Ed.), Womens role in Aboriginal society (pp. 4–15). Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.Google Scholar
  31. Hiatt, L. R. (1962). Local organization among the Australian Aborigines. Oceania, 32, 267–286.Google Scholar
  32. Hiatt, L. R. (1985). Maidens, males and Marx: some contrasts in the work of Frederick Rose and Claude Meillassoux. Oceania, 56, 34–46.Google Scholar
  33. Hiatt, L. R. (1996). Arguments about Aborigines: Australia and the evolution of social anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Hill, K., & Hurtado, A. M. (1996). Ache life history: the ecology and demography of a foraging people. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  35. Howell, N. (1979). Demography of the Dobe !Kung. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  36. Hrdy, S. B. (2005). Cooperative breeders with an ace in the hole. In E. Voland, A. Chasiotis, & W. Schiefenhoevel (Eds.), Grandmotherhood: the evolutionary significance of the second half of female life (pp. 295–318). Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Hurtado, A. M., et al. (1985). Female subsistence strategies among Ache hunter-gatherers of eastern Paraguay. Human Ecology, 13, 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Jarvenpa, R., & Brumbach, H. J. (1995). Ethnoarchaeology and gender: Chipewyan women as hunters. Research in Economic Anthropology, 16, 39–82.Google Scholar
  39. Josephson, S. (2002). Does polygyny reduce fertility? American Journal of Human Biology, 14, 222–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kaberry, P. M. (2003). Aboriginal woman: sacred and profane. London: Routledge (Originally published in 1939).Google Scholar
  41. Keen, I. (1982). How some Murngin men marry ten wives: the marital implications of matrilateral cross-cousin structures. Man, 17, 620–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Keen, I. (2006). Constraints on the development of enduring inequalities in late Holocene Australia. Current Anthropology, 47, 7–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kelly, R. L. (1995). The foraging spectrum: diversity of hunter-gatherer lifeways. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
  44. Kramer, K. L. (2004). Reconsidering the cost of childbearing: the timing of children’s helping behavior across the life cycle of Maya families. Research in Economic Anthropology, 23, 335–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kramer, K. L. (2005). Children’s help and the pace of reproduction: cooperative breeding in humans. Evolutionary Anthropology, 14, 224–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lee, R. B. (1979). The !Kung San: men, women and work in a foraging society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Lee, R. B., & DeVore, I. eds. (1968). Man the hunter. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  48. Leonetti, D., et al. (2005). Kinship organization and grandmother’s impact on reproductive success among the matrilineal Khasi and patrilineal Bengali of N.E. India. In E. Voland, A. Chasiotis, & W. Schiefenhoevel (Eds.), Grandmotherhood: the evolutionary significance of the second half of female life (pp. 194–214). Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Levine, R. A., & Levine, S. E. (1988). Parental strategies among the Gusii of Kenya. New Directions for Child Development, 40, 27–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1969). The elementary structures of kinship. Boston: Beacon Press (originally published in French in 1949).Google Scholar
  51. Long, J. (1971). Arid region Aborigines: the Pintubi. In D. J. Mulvaney, & J. Golson (Eds.), Aboriginal man and environment in Australia (pp. 262–270). Canberra: Australian National University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Marlowe, F. (2000). Good genes and parental care in human evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 611–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Marlowe, F. (2003). A critical period for provisioning by Hadza men: implications for pair bonding. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 217–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Martin, J. F., & Stewart, D. G. (1982). A demographic basis for patrilineal hordes. American Anthropologist, 84, 79–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Meggitt, M. J. (1962). Desert people: A study of the Walbiri Aborigines of Central Australia. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.Google Scholar
  56. Meggitt, M. J. (1965). Marriage among the Walbiri of Central Australia: a statistical examination. In R. M. Berndt, & C. H. Berndt (Eds.), Aboriginal man in Australia (pp. 146–166). Sydney: Angus and Robertson.Google Scholar
  57. Murdock, G. P. (1949). Social structure. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  58. Murdock, G. P., & Provost, C. (1973). Factors in the division of labor by sex: a cross-cultural analysis. Ethnology, 12, 203–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Myers, F. R. (1986). Pintupi country, Pintupi self. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  60. Peacock, N. R. (1991). Rethinking the sexual division of labor: reproduction and women’s work among the Efe. In M. di Leonardo (Ed.), Gender at the crossroads of knowledge: Feminist anthropology in the postmodern era pp. 339–360. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  61. Peterson, N. (1970). The importance of women in determining the composition of residential groups in Aboriginal Australia. In F. Gale (Ed.), Womens role in Aboriginal society (pp. 9–16). Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.Google Scholar
  62. Peterson, N. (1975). Hunter-gatherer territoriality: the perspective from Australia. American Anthropologist, 77, 53–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Peterson, N., & Long, J. (1986). Australian territorial organization. Vol 30. Sydney: University of Sydney.Google Scholar
  64. Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1913). Three tribes of Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 43, 143–194.Google Scholar
  65. Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1931). The social organization of Australian tribes. Oceania, 1, 426–56.Google Scholar
  66. Ragsdale, G. (2004). Grandmothering in Cambridgeshire, 1770–1861. Human Nature, 15, 301–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Roheim, G. (1933). Women and their life in Central Australia. Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 63, 207–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Romanoff, S. (1983). Women as hunters among the Matses of the Peruvian Amazon. Human Ecology, 11, 339–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rose, F. G. G. (1960). Classification of kin, age structure and marriage amongst the Groote Eylandt Aborigines. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.Google Scholar
  70. Scelza, B. A. (2008). Extended parental investment among Martu Aborigines. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington.Google Scholar
  71. Sear, R., Mace, R., & McGregor, I. A. (2000). Maternal grandmothers improve nutritional status and survival of children in rural Gambia. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 267, 1641–1647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sear, R., et al. (2002). The effects of kin on child mortality in rural Gambia. Demography, 39, 43–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Service, E. R. (1967). Primitive social organization. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  74. Stanner, W. E. H. (1965). Aboriginal territorial organization: estate, range, domain and regime. Oceania, 36, 1–26.Google Scholar
  75. Steward, J. (1955). Theory of culture change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  76. Strassman, B. (1997). Polygyny as a risk factor for child mortality among the Dogon. Current Anthropology, 38, 688–695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Tonkinson, R. (1974). The Jigalong mob: aboriginal victors of the desert crusade. Menlo Park, CA: Cummings.Google Scholar
  78. Tonkinson, R. (1977). Aboriginal self-regulation and the new regime: Jigalong, Western Australia. Social Anthropology Series, 11, 65–73.Google Scholar
  79. Tonkinson, R. (1978). Aboriginal community autonomy: myth and reality. In M. C. Howard (Ed.), Australian Aboriginal concepts (pp. 81–90). Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  80. Tonkinson, R. (1980). The desert experience. In R. M. Berndt, & C. H. Berndt (Eds.), Aborigines of the west (pp. 140–150). Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press.Google Scholar
  81. Tonkinson, R. (1988). Egalitarianism and inequality in a Western Desert culture. Anthropological Forum, 5, 545–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Tonkinson, R. (1990). The changing status of Aborginal women: “Free agent” at Jigalong. In R. Tonkinson, & M. Howard (Eds.), Going it alone? Prospects for Aboriginal autonomy (pp. 125–144). Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.Google Scholar
  83. Tonkinson, R. (1991). The Mardu Aborigines: living the dream in Australias desert. Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
  84. Tonkinson, R. (2000). Gender role transformation among Martu Aborigines. In P. P. Schweitzer, M. Biesele, & R. K. Hitchcock (Eds.), Hunters and gatherers in the modern world: Conflict, resistance and self-determination (pp. 343–360). New York: Berghahn Press.Google Scholar
  85. Tonkinson, R. (2007). Aboriginal “difference” and “autonomy” then and now: four decades of change in a Western Desert society. Anthropological Forum, 17, 41–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Turke, P. (1988). Helpers-at-the-nest: Childcare networks on Ifaluk. In L. Betzig, M. Borgerhoff Mulder, & P. Turke (Eds.), Human reproductive behavior: a Darwinian perspective (pp. 173–188). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Van Beek, W. (1987). The Kapsiki or the Mandara Hills. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  88. Veth, P., & Walsh, F. J. (1988). The concept of “staple” plant foods in the Western Desert region of Western Australia. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2, 19–25.Google Scholar
  89. Walsh, F. (1990). An ecological study of traditional Aboriginal use of country: Martu in the Great and Little Sandy Deserts, Western Australia. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia, 16, 23–37.Google Scholar
  90. Warner, W. L. (1937). A black civilization: A social study of an Australian tribe. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  91. White, D. (1988). Rethinking polygyny: co-wives, codes and cultural systems. Current Anthropology, 29, 529–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. White, D., Burton, M. L., & Brudner, L. A. (1977). Entailment theory and method: a cross-cultural analysis of the sexual division of labor. Behavior Science Research, 12, 1–24.Google Scholar
  93. Yengoyan, A. (1979). Economy, society and myth in Aboriginal Australia. Annual Review of Anthropology, 8, 393–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations